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COUNTERPUNCH

TV Writer Showed No Respect, Whatever Her Age

November 23, 1998|MARC PARISER

OK, so I guess I get dragged into this public discussion too. Riley Weston seems to have found the formula for doing what most TV writers would like to do: get a lot of industry attention.

For the record, I am that ex-Metropolitan agent to which my friend, Arthur Axelman, made veiled reference ("She Fooled Us, but Don't Discount Her Writing," Counterpunch, Nov. 2). So, let's set the record straight, at least that part of the record to which I am a party.

Yes, a little over a year ago, he and director Arthur Allan Seidelman brought me the Riley Weston pilot, "Holliman's Way," to read with the hope that, as Mr. Seidelman's agent, I would help them sell this to a network. I took the script very seriously, as I do any project that captures the interest of a client. In fact, I took it seriously enough to have Arthur and Arthur come into my office for a discussion about it.

I clearly recall stating that I thought the script showed real talent. However, I had some concern about the story structure and the impact it would have on setting up the series. Mr. Axelman then informed me that the writer was an 18-year-old.

I must admit I was more impressed with the writing in light of this new information, and her lack of professional writing experience certainly explained the flaws that I perceived. I believe it was at this point that I exclaimed, "She's just a kid!" . . . an observation that I still think was accurate, given the information I had at the time. I made a suggestion as to how the material might be revised. Mr. Seidelman liked the suggestion and thought it would indeed improve the material from a storytelling point of view.

I asked the Arthurs if they thought Riley would be receptive to any suggestions regarding a change in the material. They were clear and in agreement in their response: She didn't seem too inclined to take notes.

Now I was surprised again. Here were two veterans of the business sitting in my office. Somehow, this 18-year-old had made it clear to them that anyone with ideas about how to alter her material need not bother speaking up.

If I have learned anything in my years in the business, it is that making films and television is a collaborative process. Whether we agree with all the comments received from network or studio executives or not, we will get them. Very often the ideas will improve the writer's material. Whether out of respect for our professional peers (or in this case, mentors) or simply out of business acumen, we had better at least listen and make a pretense of considering these ideas. It can certainly be expected that a network will have some notion of what they would like to see in any piece of material, no matter how well-written or what the age of the writer.

Although I had some real concerns about my client and my friend marching into a network with someone who seemed disrespectful of them or who appeared too arrogant, I was still willing to help if I could. I asked them to talk to Ms. Weston and ascertain how resolute she was. Based on her answer, we would then discuss how to proceed.

Of course, she decided to move on to United Talent Agency. Now, I applaud UTA for understanding the value of marketing her age. This is just one reason why they have become as successful as they are. Of course, the risk is that one does not remain 18 forever. Indeed, Riley Weston became 32 faster than any of us would have imagined, and now, like many other aging writers, she is no longer salable. Age or karma? You decide. As for her talent, she was impressive at 18. By the time she turned 32, she wasn't any better than many 32-year-old writers and not as good as some.

I believe that my ex-client and my friend, Arthur and Arthur, as well as everyone else that Ms. Riley came into contact with as a writer, should have been treated with the respect that they deserve as professionals and human beings. She also should have had faith in her own alleged writing ability to open doors.

As for me, I am an agent who continues to choose to represent and market writers' talent and potential, not their age.

Marc Pariser runs his own agency, which represents writers, directors and producers.

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